The Promises of God: The Pivot of Everything!
Topic: Genesis Passage: Genesis 21:1–21:13
Several years ago I came across a book on Buddhism and flipping through came across an article called The Pivot of Nothingness. Here is a part of what it said:
The past has already gone, so it does not exist. The future has not yet come, so it also does not exist. So the past and the future are nothing, no-time. Then is the present all that exists? No, even though there is a present, strictly speaking the present is nothing, because in a moment it is gone. So the present also is nothing, zero, no-time, no-present, no form of the present. But that nothingness is very important.
Nothingness means total functioning, just functioning energy. When the present is no-time, it is interconnected with all the sentient beings in the peace and harmony of timelessness. But when nothingness functions, there is a pivot, and it becomes the present. That pivot is called the pivot of nothingness.
Now I don’t pretend to understand what in the world that is saying. The closest I’ve ever gotten to the pivot of nothingness is my couch during football season. From my perspective, the author is disguising the fact that he’s writing nonsense by using vague and confusing words. But unfortunately I think there are a lot of people who are attracted to mystical sounding stuff like this and the more vague and disattached it sounds the wiser and more spiritual they feel they’re getting. The Bible doesn’t speak to us in mystical terms of nothingness, no-time, and non-existence but it begins with God as the ultimate reality and the ultimate and eternal existence. In the beginning God created… God is and always has been. God is, “I Am That I Am”, the author of, definer of, and measurement of reality.
And in His word God gives us truth to build our lives on, and promises to build our future on. Faith in God’s promises is as simple as faith that what God said He will do, He will do. God is not just a Promise-maker, He is a Promise-keeper.
In Gen 21, we come to the fulfillment of a promise of God. It’s a promise God made to Abraham and Sarah, but we will also see that it is a promise that has a direct connection to us today. In a certain way the life of every human being who has ever lived pivots on the birth of Isaac. I’ll tell you what I mean by that in a few minutes, but first we need to read the story as it unfolds.
Title: The Promises of God: the Pivot of Everything
I. A day of laughter: God keeps His promise (vv. 1-7)
We see in the very first two verses that God kept His promise: The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised. 2And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Genesis 21:1-2 (ESV)
And as they hold the promised baby in their arms it is a day of laughter. For 25 years Abraham and Sarah have heard people laugh behind their backs because of their belief that God would give them a son in their old age. Even they laughed as they grew older when God repeated His promise to give them a son. God sees their laughter and He tells them, I promise you will have a son, and when you do, I want you to name Him Isaac, which means laughter. Now, as God had promised, Sarah has borne Abraham a son and there is laughter in the camp. In joyful obedience Abraham names him Isaac. With a heart that is overflowing with joy, Sarah is laughing, and she knows that future generations will laugh when they hear her happy story. And every time Abraham or Sarah call their son, they call for laughter. Isaac. Laughter. God kept His promise and that has filled their hearts with the laughter of joy. But as we read on we’ll see that laughter didn’t last long.
II. A shadow falls: another kind of laughter (vv. 8-13)
Verse 8 picks up when Isaac is about 3 years old and as Sarah weans him Abraham decides this calls for a celebration so Abraham throws the first and only “weaning feast” in the Bible. I know, I checked. It seems a little bit over the top– but after 25 years of waiting and a miraculous birth, I guess we can’t blame them for thinking Isaac is pretty special.
Anyway in the midst of this celebration Sarah happens to walk by Abraham’s other son Ishmael who is now a teenager and she finds him laughing at Isaac. Not friendly laughter but a kind of mocking laughter. Maybe Ishmael is a little jealous of all the attention Isaac is getting, we don’t know, but Sarah comes unhinged and wants Abraham to throw Hagar and Ishmael out of the house for good. This really upsets Abraham but God speaks to Abraham and tells him to listen to Sarah and separate Hagar and Ishmael from Isaac. Sarah’s probably being petty, jealous and mean-spirited, but God has His own reasons for wanting Isaac and Ishmael separated. And so God assures Abraham that He will take care of Ishmael and make a great nation from him but that it will be: through Isaac your offspring will be named. That’s important and we’ll come back to it in a minute.
This is a sad situation involving real lives and real relationships. Ishmael is the product of Abraham’s sinful lack of trust in God, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Ishmael was Abraham’s son too. Abraham loved Ishmael too. If it was just Sarah telling him he probably wouldn’t have done it, but God Himself told Abraham to send Ishmael and Hagar out. Why does it need to happen? What’s going on here that God would ask a father to throw a wife and son out of the home?
III. A picture of two ways to reach God
Here’s where that pivot thing comes in. Isaac and Ishmael are a picture of two very different ways to reach God and their lives would become an allegory for every human being that has ever lived–we all either go in one direction or we go in the other. It all pivots with these two and in an allegorical way we are all either of the line of Ishmael or of the line of Isaac. Keep your finger there and turn with me to Galatians 4:
For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar…28Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. Galatians 4:22-24, 28 (ESV)
To understand what Paul is saying, think with me about these two boys for a moment. God had promised a son to Abraham, but after ten years Abraham and Sarah decided God wasn’t able to pull it off without a little help, so while Abraham was still young enough he took Sarah’s young slave Hagar as his wife and she conceived and gave birth to Ishmael. Nothing miraculous here. Ishmael represents what man can do without God- what the flesh can do.
But God waits to fulfill the promise of a son through Sarah for 25 years until, as Hebrews 11 says, Sarah was “past the age” and Abraham was “as good as dead”. In other words, not hard to have a baby, impossible to have a baby. God waits until it’s not possible anymore – and that’s when He does it. Isaac isn’t a “surprise”, he’s a miracle! But all along God’s promise wasn’t based on what man can do. God’s promises are always based on what God and God only can do.
What Paul is saying is that Ishmael represents man’s attempt to reach God through keeping the law – Mt. Sinai – which always leads to slavery because legalism can never give us the power to overcome our sin – so we remain slaves to sin and add to it slaves to legalistic rules. But it’s not limited to keeping the Jewish law. Any humanistic efforts to reach God - good works, being religious, helping other people, hoping your good works outweighing your bad deeds. You fill in the blank – anything that’s built on man’s effort rather than God’s promise: man’s effort to reach God on our own, man’s effort to figure out life on our own, man’s effort to replace God with man as the center of the universe. It might sound good, might look good, but the Bible warns us that it is pivoting on nothingness. It’s not hard to overcome our sin or bridge the gap between us and God by our own efforts. It’s impossible.
Isaac is the child of promise – His birth represents what God alone can do. It is through Isaac’s line that Abraham’s promised offspring would come and all nations would be blessed. It would be through Isaac’s line that Jesus Christ would come, the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s gracious promises to man. As fully God and fully Man, Jesus did what no ordinary man could ever do: lived a life that was perfectly pleasing to God, obeyed the law of God perfectly, and then willingly died in our place as if He’d broken all the laws in order to ransom us back to God. Listen to our Savior’s own words:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God. John 3:16-21 (ESV)
One line – just one – separates all of mankind. It is the pivot point of entire human race. Those who believe God’s promises and those who reject His promises and choose not to believe in what God has done. All of mankind is represented by the two men who were crucified next to Jesus. One believed, one mocked. One received eternal life as a totally unearned gift, one rejected it and mocked the One who could have given it to him. What we do with the promises of God is the pivot that everything rests on.
What do I do with this? If you aren’t a Christian, the first step is to recognize that God loves you but you’re in serious trouble. You have real sin and God has a real hatred of sin. You can never be “good enough” or “religious enough” to earn God’s acceptance. Impossible. Only way for any of us to be saved is to look to Jesus Christ and believe. Trust the promises of God to do for you what only God can do. You have God’s word that if you turn to Him and believe in His Son, He will forgive you, reconcile you back to Him as a friend, adopt you as His son or daughter, and save you forever. And God always keeps His word.
If you are a Christian, how do you apply this? Ask God to use the daily challenges and trials and life events to deepen your trust in Him. Look with me quickly at the end of this story beginning in verse 32. Abraham has another skirmish with king, but they work through it with a covenant. Pick up in vv 32-34.
We’re coming near to the end of Abraham’s story. It’s been a hard, long road for Abraham. But we see him here calling on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. His knowledge of God has deepened. His trust has deepened. In the next chapter God will ask the biggest test of Abraham, but Abraham’s response isn’t formed in a vacuum. He has seen God’s faithfulness to His promises time and time again.
God’s not looking to make, in the words of Matt Chandler, “chirpy Christians” who have a “chirpy faith”. Everything’s gonna be great, I’m not gonna have any problems, nothings gonna go wrong, I can’t fail, cause I have faith. And when someone else is going through a trial, the last thing we want to do is chirp in their ear.
Life is really hard sometimes, yes, that includes Christians. Bad things do happen, and messes are made. We sin and God’s promises aren’t always answered in our time (learn from this story!) But as we go through life situations (especially difficult ones) they give us the opportunity to be deepening and maturing in our trust in God’s promises. And the deepest roots of our faith aren’t tapped into whether God gives us this job or that healing or the other blessing. Those are important, God cares, and we should trust God for every detail of our lives, but the deep roots of our faith go to the cross and what God did for us through His Son there. We aren’t condemned, we are forgiven, we are accepted by God, we have eternal life, all because we believe in what God has done. We are children of the promise.
Where is God working to deepen your faith and trust in His promises? Is your life pivoting on God’s promise – when you look in the past, do you see God’s past faithfulness, stirring your heart to deeper trust? When you look at your present, are you trusting God to hold your life up? To provide what you need? To help you, use you, grow you, love you? When you look in the future do you see the future as bright as all of God’s promises in Christ? Are you anticipating the day when God’s promise to save you from wrath and welcome you into the eternal kingdom of Christ is fulfilled? God isn’t just a Promise-maker, He’s a Promise-keeper. There will be great joy – and a lot of laughter – on that day! Believe Him at His word – believe His promise. The application of this message isn’t to do something, it’s to grow in your faith in what God has done.
As we close by singing O Faithful God, I want us to sing this as a prayer to God, rejoicing in His faithfulness and asking Him to deepen our faith and trust in Him and what He has promised to do.